Shamu, Extreme Poverty and You

Guest Blogger: Noel Yeatts, Vice President of World Help

On my way home from vacation this summer I found myself in a hotel room watching a documentary that I had already seen. In fact, this may have been the third time I had watched it. You could say I am a little obsessed. You see, the documentary Blackfish rocked my world.

Growing up, my family lived in San Diego and we had annual passes to Sea World. I loved Shamu the killer whale, I knew all of the shows, memorized the songs, waited anxiously to be splashed and secretly hoped to be the one child in the audience they picked to receive a big kiss from Shamu. But you know how that works … they always pick the cutest kid. Let’s just say these were not my best years. I was a little on the chunky side and had a wannabe Dorothy Hamill haircut. Trust me, it was not a good look. So, I never was picked.

But that did not diminish my love for Sea World, so I kept coming back.

The first time I saw Blackfish, a documentary that suggests the negative effects of killer whales in captivity, I did not know what to do with my roller coaster of emotions. I didn’t know what to believe. My heart would love to keep those childhood memories untainted but my head tells me better.

The documentary has played endlessly on CNN since its release in 2013. Sea World has pushed back relentlessly publishing open letters in newspapers and producing commercials defending their fair treatment of the animals.

Here is an interesting number … 59. That is the total number of killer whales globally held in captivity.

And the world is outraged.

About three years ago I met Blanca in the hills of Guatemala in a remote area that help rarely reaches. After hours of driving through rocky roads, rough terrain, and a hike up a hill, we found Blanca in a small mud hut with her parents and two siblings. They had little food and no clean water source. Their only income was what small amount her father made selling firewood. This was a family living in extreme poverty.Noel - pic 1 - Blanca

Blanca was skin and bones. She was severely malnourished and was quite possibly on the verge of death.

Here is another number … 16,000.  That is the estimated number of children under the age of 5 that will die today from the effects of extreme poverty. So by the time you finish reading this post 60 children will have died.

So 59 whales get a documentary that plays over and over on a major news network. They get legal teams, dedicated fans and advocates speaking out on their behalf. And because of this support, things begin to change.

Regardless of which side you believe, there is no denying that the treatment of these animals will be forever improved. The scrutiny alone will ensure their safety in the future. And while the mistreatment of animals sickens me, what outrages me even more is the suffering of innocent children.

Most deaths from extreme poverty are entirely preventable. But, these children have no legal teams, no documentaries playing over and over again on a major news source, few resources, and little hope.

I can’t help but wonder about the number of children that could be rescued, if they were shown the same attention as 59 killer whales.

The day I met Blanca changed my life. I was able to participate in her rescue story, and months later the transformation was incredible. She was a different child – healthy, laughing and playing like any other little girl. We captured her story in a short documentary and started telling it across the country. And guess what … things started to change. People got involved and lives were saved.

So, here is the number I really want you to remember … 200. That is the number of children that together with the Leading and Loving It community, we have committed to helping rescue – children just like Blanca. That is 200 lives that will be saved and forever changed.

Noel - pic 2 - Blanca and momSometimes I think of Blanca’s mother, who, like so many mothers around the world, simply did not have the resources or support to care for her children. She was desperate. Helpless. Being unable to save her own daughter from the effects of malnutrition, dirty water, and the despair of poverty was never her choice.

But it’s stories like hers that have allowed me to see that I do have a choice—I can choose to sit back and ignore the suffering and injustices happening every day all around the world, or I can choose to live my life awake – awake enough to make a difference.

You see, my faith claims to care about the suffering, the sick, the wounded, the brokenhearted and the hopeless. My faith stands for justice. But my faith also requires me to act … to be the hope to those who have none.

Will you be the hope? What step will you take TODAY to be hope to someone in extreme poverty?

When The Bags Are Packed: Leaving Well

Trisha DavisIt was Easter 2013 when I realized that packing boxes would be in my near future. Our family moved to Nashville, TN, in 2009 to launch Cross Point Church’s third campus. My husband, Justin, took on the role of campus pastor. Although I knew someday down the road he would return to being a senior pastor (like way, way, way down the road), I didn’t expect it to happen this soon.

As you know, Easter is like the Super Bowl! I was leading worship that morning and the excitement and joy of our staff and volunteers was at an all-time high. But this Sunday was different for Justin. As he lead our creative team in a mini-devotional and prayer time before the first service, his melancholy tone and his posture of defeat told me he had checked out.

We sat in his office after the final service, and I started to cry. I shared with him that his loss of passion for his position would eventually start to hurt our staff and church family. His tears started to match mine and in that moment, we knew we had to make a very painful choice. A choice to say nothing, collect a pay check and pretend like everything was okay or a choice to speak truth and confess hoping to find a healthy solution.

A couple of weeks later we sat down on Pete and Brandi Wilson’s couch, who not only lead Cross Point Church but have been our dear friends for many years. They knew before we even spoke a word. I was crying and unable to utter enough words to make a sentence. We shared openly and honestly how Justin was struggling in his current role. The pain on their faces was almost too much for me to bear and we left their house wondering if we had done the right thing.

It’s been two and a half years since that painful conversation. I have learned so much about how to leave well during our long season of transition. So if you’re reading this post in the midst of your own transition, I want to encourage you with four basic principles that will help you leave well.

  1. Be honest and transparent.

There was no drama and no hidden reason Justin was stepping down. We loved Cross Point Church and still do! We loved our campus, our staff, our small group – we loved everything about our church which made the leaving even harder. But Justin longed to be a senior pastor again.

That night on the Wilson’s couch I was painfully honest and transparent about the fact that Justin and I weren’t on the same page. I confessed to them that I didn’t want to leave and that our kids didn’t want to leave. Yes, I knew Justin needed to step down from his position but I was not yet ready for him to be a senior pastor again.

Because we were honest, it gave Pete and our executive team a clear picture of where we were as a family.  So instead of just booting Justin to the curb he was offered a different position. They didn’t have to nor did they owe him this! But this new part-time position gave us the time and space to get healthy enough in our marriage and in our family to know when it was the right time to move. Fast forward to this past summer, we were healthy, expectant and EXCITED not only as a couple but as a family and we moved to Indianapolis, Indiana to plant Hope City Church.

You may not be given this transition option like we were. In fact, yours may be much more challenging and even get ugly. No matter what, honesty is the best route to take at all times even if others don’t respond well to it. At least you will know that you’ve done the right thing before God.

  1. Don’t take the grieving process personally.

God has given us the gift of grief. Grief provides a pathway to healing from what was lost. There are five stages to grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance but not necessarily in that order. In your decision to leave, take the time to process all the emotions and questions that come with it. Give the people on your staff and in your congregation the gift of time and space and remember not to take their grieving process personally.

  1. Speak life.

When you are a part of a group of people who are grieving, hurtful words are sure to be spoken. It will be very tempting to respond and defend your decision which often leads to unnecessary drama. People are going to talk, but you can’t control other people’s opinions. You can, however, control how you respond to them. Speaking life is not to be confused with sugar coating what may be an ugly departure. I’m not advocating for you to be fake or inauthentic, but its important to have a mentor, counselor or trusted friend to be able to process the ugly side of leaving. Trying to navigate people’s pain who may not know the whole story and shouldn’t know the whole story only leads to more pain and divisiveness. Not everybody will understand, and you will have to be okay with that.Trisha Davis b

  1. Pray.

I know you totally rolled your eyes at me and that’s okay because I can’t see you! If you want to know how to navigate every step of your transition as a staff member, then spend time in prayer. We are human and when left unto ourselves, we can be pretty awful toward one another. The power of prayer is an act of humility, recognizing that no matter how perfect we think our transition will go, we are bound to mess things up.

Looking back on this transitioning season, Justin and I realize how blessed we were to be a part of a great church that helped us leave well. You may not have the same experience as we did and may have to overcome difficult obstacles. Regardless, we don’t use other people’s treatment of us to justify our wrong actions. Leaving is never easy but there is always an opportunity to leave well.

Of the four suggestion Trisha made above, which one do you feel you need to work on in your own life when it comes to transition and change? (Honesty/transparency, not taking things personally, speaking life, or praying)

When The Bags Are Packed: When People Don’t Leave Well

Kimberly ScottI grew up in a church planter’s home and spent most of my childhood learning to change and transition churches, ministries, houses and friends. As a kid my folks were careful to protect us from conflicts they faced in the ministry. But once I entered my teen years, I began to see a more authentic side of their emotions as they faced challenges in their leadership with people that disagreed with some of their decision making. My parents did not allow us to enter into the fray of these conflicts. I realized as an adult that their REACTION to these struggles equipped me for life and ministry and all the highs and lows that would come.  

I met and married Tim about ten years ago and at the time he had been pastoring a deeply traditional community church. I saw the grand pillars and steeple on that first Sunday morning. It was a beautiful church but it didn’t seem to fit into the community that surrounded it. The neighborhood was considered one of the “Top Ten Hipster Neighborhoods” of America and the attendance on any given Sunday reflected the opposite. While the attenders of this church loved the Lord and followed Him, there was no community outreach and no relationships being built with the neighbors surrounding the church. 

God began to stir my husband’s heart for the lost. For the first time in over twenty years, he began to lose sleep and felt tortured by missing the opportunity to reach young families, singles, and young professionals that were pouring into our neighborhood. He made the bold decision to turn this 100-year-old church around, gut the building, including red carpet and old, wooden pews, believing for growth.    

Basically, the church lost hundreds of people. In the process, most of the elders and generational families that attended could not survive the whiplash from the changes my husband felt called to make. I’ll never forget the night he came home from an elder’s meeting and told me that twelve former elders had come with a written request demanding his resignation. It got real ugly. There was yelling, cursing and almost a physical altercation, but by some miracle and a few strong men committed to this new vision, we remained. Our name was trashed, our reputation had been besmirched and our leadership, sometimes poorly executed, was hanging on by a thread. We wanted to run but God said NO. And thank God we didn’t because our very BEST days were ahead! 

People may leave you in this life. Friends, church members, lifetime relationships and sometimes even family, but when the dust settles we have a choice to make. A life and death choice. I can sum it up in one word: FORGIVENESS. 

Here are some tips from Mama Kimberly on what that looks like:Kimberly Scott a

  1. Forgiveness is about freeing up and putting to better use the energy that is being consumed by holding grudges, resentments and nursing old wounds.
  2. Forgiveness is about moving on.
  3. Forgiveness is about choosing serenity and happiness over righteous anger.
  4. Forgiveness is about refusing to replay past hurts in your mind over and over again like a broken record.
  5. Forgiveness is about realizing that anger and resentment don’t serve you well.
  6. Forgiveness is about giving YOURSELF a clean slate.

We can remain wounded in the wake of abandonment, or we can FORGIVE, HEAL, and CELEBRATE what God is going to do next. I learned that personalizing other’s behavior would be poison to my soul and would sabotage the new thing God wanted to birth in us for the future! I learned that forgiveness is a spiritual muscle, and the more you flex it, the stronger it becomes. Let’s just say that my “forgiveness muscle” is pumped right about now.

Recently we celebrated what God has done at Grace Church since those dark days. We now pack attenders into five services on the weekend and are getting ready to launch our next campus. Our church is FILLED with beautiful, imperfect people that have newly met Jesus, and we are an authentic reflection of our community that surrounds us. We were called to this place, and we are staying.

By the way, I wouldn’t trade a single conflict we went through for all the life and leadership lessons we learned through it. At the end of the day, it wasn’t just the building that God wanted to refine, it was us.

Are there any situations you’ve experienced when people have not left your church or organization well that are still bothering you today? What step do you need to take today toward forgiveness?

When The Bags Are Packed: When You Leave A Church

Jenni Clayville“But I’m not a quitter!” I told Brian. 

When you sign on to be a part of a church plant, you have dreams to watch it grow, flourish and impact the community of which you live. None of us want to admit it, but you want to see your church become the biggest church in that area, so full of relevance and revival that your city goes from the least churched county in the least churched city of the least churched state in the United States of America to the next Saddleback or Willow Creek. You don’t ever think you’ll have irreparable differences, get burned out, be called elsewhere or that your church doors will close. You give your 100%… sometimes 110%. So, when it doesn’t work out, you can’t help but feel like a failure.

Years ago, a church plant in it’s first few years hired me on as their Worship & Creative Arts Pastor. I was their second salaried hire, their first being the lead pastor so this church was obviously still a “baby church.” Up to this point, my ministry work experience had always been in much bigger churches. This was a new experience. Brian and I were beyond excited for this opportunity for something that could impact God’s kingdom in a different way.

Within a year, we realized that things were not looking the way we hoped they would. And by two years in, we truly felt God releasing us from this church. This was NOT what I thought was going to happen. Brian and I moved forward in what we felt convicted to do.

We prayed long and hard over the next steps to take. There were some hard conversations that we initiated with people we cared for. I value communication because it takes the guessing out of everything. Once we shared our hearts and struggles, we parted ways and left the church.

This broke my heart. I was watching my thousands of hours of prayers, dreaming, hoping, investment and work flush down the toilet as if I never did anything. I felt worthless. Without a purpose.

You see, my worth was caught up in my works. On what I had done and created. I felt like I had failed. 

Like I quit on my church.
Like I quit on my family.
Like I quit on my calling.
Like I quit on God.

But then my wise husband said this to me:

“You are not quitting. Your calling is still the same. What God has created you to do is the same today as it was when you started in ministry. The ‘where’ is changing.”

It took awhile for that to sink in but it eventually did. 

Shortly after we left this church, I was offered the Worship & Creative Arts Pastor role at Paseo Christian Church in El Paso, Texas. El Paso is 1,650 miles away from where Brian and I called “home” in Portland, Oregon. It was a long shot… but it was consistent in God’s calling on our lives.

Brian and I learned so much during this transition and the years that followed. Here are a few things I’d like to share with you:Jenni Clayville b

  1. When you leave a church, you don’t leave THE CHURCH. We are all on the same team as Christ Followers and ministers of the gospel even if we don’t act like it. I am going to act like it. What a privilege that we get to journey as we do because the “where” is ALWAYS changing, whether it be a physical location or just where our hearts and minds expand to. God has given us so many chances to serve Him in our wheelhouse… the wheelhouse where He’s designed us to flourish. It’s an opportunity to grow and offer so much more than you knew how before. 
  2. Every moment is a teachable moment. Just because you fail at something, doesn’t mean you’re a failure. You’re not. Let God teach you what He wants you to learn. And because of the experiences I had at the other church, I’ve been able to navigate in our current journey with more discernment, wisdom and understanding. None of this has been wasted.
  3. Choose to honor. Every part of our non-confrontational beings want to avoid discomfort in relationships but Brian and I did everything we could to make sure the lines of communication were open long after we left the church. There were follow-up conversations that were beneficial to all even through awkwardness. We were intentional with the words we said about the church and what we allowed to be said about this church in our presence. To this day, we still have relationships with people who attended.

Are there any issues or burdens you are still facing from leaving a church? What does God want you to do to truly heal and grow from that experience? What step will you take today to do that?

When The Bags Are Packed: When A Staff Member Leaves Your Church

Brandi WilsonIf I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. Psalms 139:9-10

When I received my blog topic several weeks ago, I remember thinking, “This is going to be an easy one; I can write from a past situation that we’ve walked through and healed from.” I’m not exaggerating when I tell you it wasn’t a few short days later that I learned a beloved staff member of ours was being called away from our church. This wasn’t just any staff member but someone who had become a close and trusted friend. Someone I had dreamed with. Someone who had walked through tough times by our side and celebrated the shared joy of triumphs. Someone I believed I would be telling Cross Point stories with 20 years down the road. Someone I thought I would have the honor of working with and doing life side by side for a very long time. After that description, I am sure you can tell my heart is still a little tender.

One of the reasons I think a staff member leaving your church is so difficult to walk through is because our hearts are so torn. We are seeing someone we love dearly follow God’s call in their life. How exciting is that?! We want everyone in our church to follow God’s call in their lives… except when it is someone we love and God’s call is taking them away from us, right? No, following God’s will in our lives comes without any exceptions. We have to celebrate the departing staff member’s obedience to His call while our hearts are aching. It is a tough situation for our hearts to navigate.

Several years ago Pete and I had the opportunity to have dinner with Rick and Kay Warren along with several other pastors and wives. At one point during the dinner someone asked the Warrens how they handle it when a staff member chooses to leave their church. In her usual manner, Kay had some great words of wisdom. She said in the past she used to take it personally and would be hurt when staff would choose to leave. But over the years she has come to look at the departing staff member’s time at Saddleback as an investment. They were “in training” at Saddleback for some God-ordained purpose, and when they left God had moved them somewhere else to minister. Saddleback was part of their experience and part of their journey.

Truly, they were words of such depth. I loved her attitude and her positivity. I loved that you could tell her words were words spoken from experience, something she’d worked through in her own life and learned how to feel her way through.

Here are a couple of thoughts on transitioning staff members that I have learned:Brandi Wilson b

1) Just because they are being called away from your church doesn’t mean they have been called out of your life. Will the relationship look different? Yes. Mainly because the amount of time you spend together is going to change. But the relationship itself still exists. Who they are to you as a person is still the same. Continuing to be a cheerleader for them as they transition and move on speaks volumes to their hearts. We have to remember even though God has called them away and their next steps are exciting, their hearts are hurting, too. We must always care more about the people than the job they do for the church.

2) Ultimately we must remember we are still serving God’s Church. God is going to call people away. He is also going to bring the people He wants serving on the front lines with us. Anytime I start to feel anxious about transitions and who is going to fill certain roles, I take a second and remind myself: “This is still God’s church; He will provide abundantly more than I can imagine.”

Whatever our former staff member does from here on out, our church is part of her story. Cross Point helped train her up and helped her grow. I have to trust our church shaped her in the way God intended during her time with us. We are honored that God chose us to be a permanent part of her personal story. And that blesses me.

How have you navigated through staff transitions? What important lessons have helped heal your heart.